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George F. Will 

. . . Emblem 

Alger Hiss spent 44 months in pris- 
on and then his remaining 42 years in 
the dungeon of his grotesque fidelity to 
the fiction of his innocence. The costs 
of his unconditional surrender to the 
totalitarian temptation was steep for 
his supporters. Clinging to their belief 
in his martyrdom in order tjp preserve 
their belief in their “progressive” vir- 
tue, they were drawn into an intellec- 
tual corruption that hastened the moral 
bankruptcy of the American left. 

Hiss died last week at 92. The 
insufferable agnosticism expressed in 
many obituaries concerning his guilt is 
proof of the continuing queasiness of 
“anti-anti-communist” thinkers con- 
fronting the facts of communism and 
its servants. 

When Hiss was accused of espio- 
nage for the Soviet Union, his back- 
ground — Johns Hopkins and Harvard 
Law School; protege of Felix Frank- 
furter; aide to Justice Oliver Wendell 
Holmes; a diplomatic career that car- 
ried him . to the upper reaches of the 
State Department, and to Yalta and 
the United Nations’ birth in San Fran- 
cisco; at the time of the accusation, 
president of the Carnegie Endowment 
for International Peace — made him a 
perfect symbol of cosmopolitan sophis- 
tication under siege from America’s 
paranoid majority of yahoos. And then 
there was his accuser,. Whittaker 
Chambers. 

Porcine, rumpled and tormented, 
with bad teeth and a worse tailor, he 
was as declasse as Hiss was elegantly 
emblematic of the governing class. 
The trouble was that Chambers knew 
things. He knew Hiss. 

When Chambers said that while he 
had been a communist operative he 
had dealt with Hiss, Hiss testified that 


of the Governing Class 


he had never known “a man by the 
name of Whittaker Chambers.” A very 
lawyerly answer, that During his pro- 
tracted self-destruction, he was driven 
to admit to having known Chambers by 
another name, but not well. However, 
Chambers knew so many intimacies — 
from Hiss’s household effects to the 
thrill Hiss, an amateur ornithologist, 
felt when he spotted a prothonotary 
warbler — that Hiss was forced to 
weave an ever more tangled web. 

He lied about transferring his car 
through Chambers to communists, and 
about not remembering how he had 
disposed of the Woodstock typewriter 
on which some incriminating docu- 
ments had been typed. He lied by 
omitting from a list of former maids 
the one to whose family he gave the 
typewriter. He was convicted of per- 
jury (the statute of limitations saved 
him from espionage charges). 

In 1978 historian Allen Weinstein, 
who began his research believing Hiss 
innocent, published his definitive “Per- 
jury: The Hiss-Chambers Case,” based 
on 40,000 pages of previously classi- 
fied material and interviews with 40 
people involved in the case but never 
before interviewed, including Soviet 
agents who confirmed Chambers’s tes- 
timony. Weinstein’s conclusion: “There 
has yet to emerge, from any source, a 
coherent body of evidence that seri- 
ously undermines the credibility of the 
evidence against Mr. Hiss.” 

What emerged after the end of the 
Cold War would have made pieace hell 
for Hiss, had he been susceptible to 
guilt or even embarrassment. A Soviet 
general, falsely described as; fa miliar 
with all pertinent archives, was pres- 
sured by a Hiss emissary to say there 


was no evidence of Hiss espionage. ,,t" 
The general later recanted. From Rus- 
sia came documents confirming Cham- « * 
bers’s account of the communist un- 
derground in the United States in the ' ’ 
1930s. From Hungarian archives came “ 
documentary evidence (from another y 
Harvard-educated American spy) that A 
Hiss spied. 

In a 1990 memoir, a former KGB 
officer asserted that Hiss’s Soviet code 
name was “Ales.” Earlier this year, the 
U.S. government released files from 
the “Venona Project,” which intercept- 
ed 2,200 wartime Soviet cables, A 'j 
March 30, 1945, cable refers to an 
agent Ales in terms congruent with 
testimony about Hiss by Chambers and 
others. . ; 

There is no hatred as corrupting as ,, r 
intellectual hatred, so Hiss’s support- t 
ers always responded to evidence by 
redoubling their concoction of rococo , 
reasons for believing him framed by a 
conspiracy so vast and proficient it left ' 
no trace of itself. They still require his 
innocence so they can convict America 
of pathological injustice. Never has so - 
much ingenuity been invested in so low 
a cause, or such futility. !'».$ 

Hiss loyalists finally were reduced to ' * 
proclaiming that their loyalty was self- 
vindicating. As one of them said, “Al- 
ger would not have put his friends and ’ * 
others through what they went " 
through for him if he was guilty." That ' 
is, he was either innocent or a moral 
monster, which is unthinkable. No, 
indubitable. He, enveloped in his enig- ; 
mafic fanaticism, and they, impervious ... ^ 
to evidence, were all monstrosities, ~ 
huddled together for warmth in what — 
G. K. Chesterton called “the clean 
well-lit prison of one idea.” . '''